KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
It was almost noon when we pulled into the Denali train depot after a four-hour journey from Fairbanks. A number of the passengers were heading to the Denali Bluffs Hotel so a shuttle was sent to collect us. Just as the name describes, the hotel was nestled on the hillside above the highway and the string of other hotels and services below. We had a big laugh when we saw the yield sign that showed a massive mosquito carrying away a human with its legs!
The hotel buildings were beautiful and well-appointed but we couldn’t believe our eyes when we were shown to our room on the lower level facing out onto the sidewalk that acts as a passageway between the buildings. The room was so small you couldn’t swing a cat in it – this is not at all what we expected, especially considering the exorbitant price we’d paid to stay for three nights.
I headed straight to the reception desk and when asked if I was happy with the room, I told them I was majorly underwhelmed. They explained that we had been given the room we’d booked, but because they weren’t full during our stay they could upgrade us for what seemed to me a rather small difference in price.
When we were shown the new room, in the new building that had recently been built, we were blown away by the size, the view and the spa-like bathroom. Thank goodness they had space for us to move!
We headed off to have a light meal at the hotel’s ‘Perky Moose’ café and then decided to walk into the village to pick up some provisions for breakfast the following morning because it was going to be an early start for our day-trip into Denali National Park. I was more than a little surprised when we walked down the road to the string of buildings that houses the shops and eateries in Denali. It was like walking into a Wild West town.
There didn’t seem to be much infrastructure that we’d come to expect in a tourist town. No sidewalks, no pavement – just a string of log buildings with a kind of boardwalk along the front. Before we even reached the boardwalk we had to pass some ramshackle buildings that functioned as a general store, souvenir shop, gas station, etc.
I later learned the whole town shuts down as winter sets in. All the doors and windows are boarded up and everyone leaves for their homes in other parts of Alaska or the Lower 49 states. Apparently there is so much snow in the area that the town is virtually buried for the winter months. In the spring some very hardy souls show up to dig the buildings out, remove the hoarding and get everything ready for another busy tourist season.
I never asked, but after learning this, I imagine that the trains don’t run during the winter either. People must stay put where they are, or else they fly in and out of Fairbanks and Anchorage.
We picked up our provisions and returned to our room for a rest and a chance to sit on the balcony and enjoy the beautiful view out the windows. We weren’t really interested in shopping for any souvenirs but we did return later in the evening to eat at the Black Bear Café. They had the healthiest food in town from what we could see. I was thrilled to order a goat cheese and roasted beet salad with fresh arugula. We hadn’t seen a lot of fresh vegetables or salad greens on offer in Fairbanks.
It was early to bed that night, despite the bright skies outside because we had an early start for our long journey into the Denali National Park the following morning.